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Chinese Buying Drives Sotheby’s Hong Kong Sale To $170 Million

Bidders From Mainland China Dominate As Expectations Are Surpassed In Landmark Autumn Auction

Chinese contemporary artist Liu Ye's "Portrait of L" sold in Hong Kong for $209,000 over its high estimate

Chinese contemporary artist Liu Ye's "Portrait of L" sold in Hong Kong for $209,000 over its high estimate

Over the last week, we’ve followed the Sotheby’s autumn auction in Hong Kong, which included sales of everything from fine wine to antiquities to contemporary Chinese and Asian art, noting that sales were well above estimates and sell-through rates were promising. Today, in a wrap-up of the sales, Le-Min Lim of Bloomberg illustrates how this series of auctions, led by Chinese rather than American buyers, represents a major shift in auction buying trends:

The total beat both the presale estimate of HK$950 million and last year’s auction, which raised HK$1.1 billion ($141.7 million at that time), half its forecast, three weeks after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s September 2008 failure.

“The bidding was intense,” auctioneer Henry Howard-Sneyd said in an interview after the auction. The mood in the saleroom was “electric” when Emperor Qianlong’s throne came on the block yesterday, he said: “This shows when the right item comes along, the money is there — especially from China.”

Chinese collectors have come out in force over the last year, recognizing quality lots and quickly developing a sophisticated eye for collection-worthy wines and paintings. In terms of antiquities, an area in which Chinese collectors have more experience, however, they seemingly can’t be beat:

The strength of Chinese bidding at the antiques sale defies a decade-old trend of Western dominance at the priciest end of the market. As recently as June, Sotheby’s rival, Christie’s International, said Americans were its top clients in this category, followed by the Chinese and Hong Kongers. Of the 2,400 lots offered this week, 88 percent found buyers.

The Chinese also bought the priciest wines and oil paintings by masters and contemporary art. Over the weekend, a Chinese buyer paid a record $94,000 for a 6-liter bottle of Chateau Petrus 1982; another spent HK$7.3 million for a 1984 oil-and-color on paper by Li Keran at the auction of classical Chinese paintings; while a third spent HK$36.5 million on a mid- 1950s oil-on-board painting, “Lotus et Poissons Rouges” (“Lotus and Red Fish”) by deceased Chinese master Sanyu.

While this article claims contemporary art underperformed, I think the sell-through at the contemporary Asian art auction speaks for itself. If lumping together all of the pieces at the contemporary auction — which included Chinese, Japanese and Korean artists in one large sale — I would say the final tally is brought down significantly by the Japanese and Korean artists, who sell, on the whole, for significantly less than quality Chinese contemporary artists.

In terms of the Chinese artists up for grabs in the contemporary sale, selling rates were excellent, with 5 of the 6 Zeng Fanzhi paintings up for auction going for well above than their high estimates, Yue Minjun’s “Hats Series – Two Lovers” selling for $372,000 over its high estimate, and works by top Chinese artists like Liu Ye, Wang Guangyi, and Huang Yongping destroying pre-sale estimates.

Ralph Lauren Planning To Open 15 New Stores Annually In China

Fashion Brand Sees Potential To Broaden Foothold In Lucrative, Yet Challenging Fashion Market

 

Ralph Lauren's sole free-standing location in China is located in Shanghai's luxury Jin Jiang Dickson Center. The company plans to branch out very rapidly in coming years

Ralph Lauren's sole free-standing location in China is located in Shanghai's luxury Jin Jiang Dickson Center. The company plans to branch out very rapidly in coming years

Wing-Gar Cheng writes for Bloomberg today that American retailer Ralph Lauren hopes to open 15 new stores in China annually in coming years. While the signature Ralph Lauren style has been adapted — or “copied”, depending who you ask — by brands with a long-time presence in China, like South Korea’s E-Land (not to mention counterfeiters throughout the country), the number of free-standing Ralph Lauren locations has remained limited. With the global demand for higher-end items remaining relatively anemic in the North American, Japanese, and European markets — despite improvements — China, with the high potential of its second- and third-tier cities, remains a sought-after target by mid- to higher-range fashion brands like Ralph Lauren. 

As Cheng writes, rapid expansion in China is not simply driven by idealism. There is a great deal of untapped potential throughout the underserved mainland, well illustrated by a quote by George Hrdina, president of Ralph Lauren’s Asian business, who said, “We do more Ralph Lauren business on the island of Manhattan, New York, than we do in Hong Kong and China.” Clearly, adding 15 stores per year is less unrealistic than it may initially sound.

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Chinese Antiques Collectors Rapidly Becoming Global Force

Unlikely Collectors In Far-Flung Rural Areas Gaining Notoriety For Massive Antiques Spending Sprees

More than 1,000 collectors took part in the Taiyuan antiques fair, held in north China's Shanxi Province. Image © CCTV

More than 1,000 collectors took part in the Taiyuan antiques fair, held in north China's Shanxi Province. Image © CCTV

We have written several times before about the growing role of Chinese art collectors in a number of art classes, from Chinese antiquities to contemporary Chinese art, and as the global downturn affects the buying and collecting habits of more established collectors, antiques dealers from Hong Kong, the UK and the US have flocked to new “fairs” in mainland China, where “coal tycoons” — often unassuming (but sometimes ostentatious) individuals who have built vast fortunes on the rural provinces’ coal deposits — are quickly becoming a major collector base. As Le-Min Lim writes for Bloomberg, this new collector base has rapidly becoming one of the most motivated (and willing to spend top dollar) of all global antiques buyers.

While Westerners still dominate the most-expensive segment of this market at auction, they are increasingly being challenged by buyers from mainland China, according to John Berwald, of New York-based dealership Berwald Oriental Art.

Christie’s says Americans are its biggest clients in this category of art, followed by mainland Chinese and Hong Kongers. While Shanxi buyers are new to the international art-trading scene compared with their Beijing and Shanghai peers, they are gaining a name as some of China’s fiercest bidders.

“They are a force to reckon with, no doubt about it,” said Kevin Ching, chief executive of Sotheby’s Asia, who attended the Taiyuan fair. On paper, Shanxi buyers formally accounted for just $4 million of Sotheby’s Chinese antiques at its Hong Kong auctions, though the actual figure is much larger because many bid through agents in the city, he said, declining to give specifics.

There are about 51,000 people in China who have 100 million yuan or more, according to Hurun’s latest China rich list, released in April. Of these, 1,050 are in Shanxi. The actual number of rich individuals in the province is probably more than twice the number on the list, said Rupert Hoogewerf, publisher of Hurun Report, which compiles China’s rich list.

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China’s Luxury Market Expected To Avoid The Worst Of The Economic Crisis

Growth Of Brands Like Gucci, Burberry In The Mainland Shows Growing Faith In Chinese Consumer Among Western Luxury Retailers

Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton have stormed the mainland in the last five years, growing quickly even in second- and third-tier cities, as consumption rates in developed markets slow

Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton have stormed the mainland in the last five years, growing quickly even in second- and third-tier cities, as consumption rates in developed markets slow

As signs that the worst of the economic crisis may have passed are increasingly pointed out by Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and others, attention has spread to the beleaguered global luxury market. While growth in this market has come to a screeching halt in traditional markets like Japan and North America as consumers cut back, analysts have predicted that the corresponding rise of the Chinese consumer — a rise that has been expedited by the Chinese government’s rapid shift to promoting a consumer-based, rather than export-based, growth plan — helps luxury brands ride out the ongoing global slowdown. According to many luxury CEOs, the key to their brands’ continued survival and expansion in this market lies solely in emerging markets like Russia and China. So the question has become, will it be enough to keep these brands afloat?

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Buying Opportunities in Contemporary Chinese Art: It’s Now in the East!

From Individual Collectors To Hedge Funds, Asset Allocation Is The Name Of The Game

Sui Jianguo's "Legacy Mantle" (2005) is expected to pull in $77,768 - $129,613 at Christie's upcoming HK auction

Sui Jianguo's "Legacy Mantle" (2005) is up for auction in Hong Kong this week

We have written several times about contemporary art’s value as a hedge against inflation, and discussed several contemporary Chinese artists whose work is increasingly being purchased by everyone from individual Chinese “New Collectors” to major world museums like MOMA and the Getty. Since there are a number of large-scale auctions scheduled this summer, from auction houses from Sotheby’s and Christie’s to their emerging counterparts China Guardian and Poly from China, Korea’s Ravenel, and Indonesia’s Borobudur, what should those interested parties know about what’s out there in Chinese art?

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Art Is Good As Gold In Inflation Era — Bloomberg

Fund Managers Moving Towards Art As Investment Diversifier, Will These Managers Balance Their Art Portfolio Investments With A Global Mix?

Castlestone is investing in western artists like De Kooning. By focusing only on western art, is the fund going to miss out on higher returns later?

Castlestone is investing in western artists like De Kooning. By focusing only on western art, is the fund going to miss out on higher returns later?

We have written before on Castlestone Management, a $660 million investment fund that focuses on works of art, which the fund feels is a better investment over the long term than traditional hedges like gold or other hard assets. Today, Bloomberg has an excellent profile of the fund, noting that it is designed to benefit from one of art’s great features — a resistance to the great asset de-valuer: inflation. Castlestone, and art investment funds like it are , Farah Nayeri writes, “designed as an anti-inflation shelter at a time when recession-busting stimulus packages are flooding the global economy with cash.” So with the number of these funds increasing, as investors look for inflation-defying destinations for their money, will they get with the program and look for a more global mix, made up of Chinese, Indian, and other emerging artists? Or will they stick to their Picassos and Warhols?

It looks like Castlestone may be up for anything as time goes on, but at the moment they seem to be a bit top-heavy with artists who are late in their career. However, with this sort of fund growing and becoming more popular with inflation-weary investors who aren’t up for the rollercoaster ride of investing in gold, stocks, or jewels, an art fund might be just the thing.

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Chinese Investment Climbs 30.5% on Stimulus Plan, Surging Loans – Bloomberg

China’s 4 Trillion Yuan Stimulus Takes Hold, Picking Up Slack For Lower Export Figures

China Trade

Slowing Exports, but growing domestic growth, may help China's recovery come sooner rather than later

Results coming out of China this week show that the government’s massive 4 trillion RMB ($586 billion) stimulus package — which is designed to boost domestic consumption, inland infrastructure construction, and earthquake reconstruction projects — coupled with a recent 30.5% boost in urban fixed-asset investment in the first four months of this year are helping the world’s third-largest economy get back on a solid growth track earlier than many other major world economies.

This is good news for China as well as the global economy, which pins much of the hopes of a relatively quick recovery on China’s domestic consumption. As Chinese consumers start to head back to shops, and manufacturers start to work their way up to higher capacity, demand for all kinds of products, both imported and domestically-produced, will help America, the EU, and Japan breathe slightly more easily. Bloomberg’s article today on China’s recovery progress gives encouraging signs that the country’s efforts to stem the financial crisis by investing huge amounts into infrastructure projects that should pay off in the long term should have a far-reaching ripple effect:

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